The UK Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston has been fined £22 000 ($35 000) following an accident in December 1997 when two workers were contaminated while inspecting the dismantling of pipework associated with a redundant glove box. James Birch and Martin Tolson inhaled plutonium, receiving an average annual dose for a worker at the site “within a matter of a few seconds”. Neither man was wearing suitable protective equipment. Although the doses were small, the Health and Safety Executive, which brought the prosecution, argues that this was a matter of chance.
“The incident had the potential to cause more harm to the health of workers,” says a HSE statement.
AWE admitted failures to ensure the health and safety of its employees. The court fined the company £14 000 plus £3750 costs. Hunting Brae, the plant operator, admitted failing to ensure the work was carried out under the control of suitably qualified personnel and to undertaking ionising radiation work without taking the necessary steps to restrict worker exposure. It was fined £4000 for each offence, plus £3750 costs.
Collingwood Thompson, prosecuting for the HSE, said in court that the HSE inspectors had discovered widespread deficiencies in management supervision and safety at Aldermaston and that lessons from previous incidents appeared not to have been learnt.